Monday, November 19, 2012

Research Journal--Reflecting on the Literature Review Process

Now that I finished the literature review a few days ago and it's turned in, I want to take some time to reflect on the process. I hope that this reflection will serve me in future classes. I think there are some lessons to be learned on the research process, the writing process, and the knowledge building.

The first place that I struggled was with how to write a literature review about something that hadn't been specifically researched. My research question links three topics: Do one-to-one laptop programs help students to meet the information literacy requirements of the Common Core State Standards?

I started by looking for information about one-to-one laptop programs. There are many, many research articles on these programs, where each student in a class or school gets their own laptop (often leased from the school for a small fee) to use for the entire school year. I had a hard time knowing which articles to pick, and I didn't have time to read 40 and choose 6. I think I read about 10 and chose from that. I ended up with articles that looked at a range of different possible outcomes from one-to-one laptop programs. I heavily mined the references lists of various articles to build this collection.

I had originally hoped to have multiple studies that looked at one-to-one programs and information literacy, but I didn't find these articles in my initial search. (When I realized that only two studies had been done, I felt a little bit better about the fact that I hadn't found anything the first few times around.) From there I began looking at information literacy, teens, and computing. I had pretty good success in finding these--again, there were a lot to choose from so I selected things that touched on different topics.

The last main topic is the Common Core State Standards, which will be guiding education in the US beginning in the next few years. Rather than each state having their own standards, states are beginning to adopt these standards that will be shared around the country. I didn't look for research about these standards, because really all I wanted was the information on what type of information literacy the standards would require.

After I had done all of this, I had a little panic that I wasn't doing the literature review "correctly." I worried about this because I was bringing three topics together that weren't necessarily linked in the literature yet. But then I realized that new and innovative research has to come from somewhere, and the thing that made the most sense was just to gather information on the two main topics and synthesize the information. Boote and Beile (2005) cite Lather (1999), saying "a synthetic review should serve a critical role in gatekeeping, policing, and leading to new productive work, rather than merely mirroring research in a field" (p. 6). This was my understanding of what a literature review is, and reading this definitely gave me a sense of relief. There isn't just one set of research that has already looked at the same topic as my research proposal--the topics touch on so many different areas. And I would think that being able to simply run through all of the similar research that had been done would mean that the proposed research wouldn't be original.

Continuing on in Boote and Beile (2005), they cite Hart (1999) in saying that a literature review for a dissertation should "synthesize prior research to gain a new perspective on it" (p. 6), but also analyze the research methods and look at what else needs to be done in the field. This is a huge task! The practical side of me knows that I am not a Ph.D. candidate nor am I even writing a masters thesis, so I shouldn't have expected to do anything this grand. I couldn't have--I didn't have the time! But the perfectionist inside me thinks "aha! I should have done all of that. I knew my review was lacking." Of course it is, as I could have refined and edited it more, found more perfect articles, read and analyzed them more.

Overall, Boote and Beile's (2005) article was helpful to read because they write about how the literature review is a type of writing that is not well-understood, and it's not valued by many education researchers. I actually felt that the example literature review and the lecture given by Professor de Groot were really helpful. I took notes on the lecture and used the step-by-step guidelines to research and prepare to write my review. I also used the literature reviews at the beginning of each research article as an indication of how to write a literature review. I did feel prepared to complete this assignment, but I also found it very challenging and had a lot of moments of self-doubt.

Boote, D. & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6), 3-15. doi: 10.3102/0013189X03400603

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